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Fish farming: The untapped goldmine

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Fish farming: The untapped goldmine

From school assignment, kids become money earners

 

Fish farming is one of the sub-sectors that can boost the Nigerian economy if the potential is well harnessed. Now, many Nigerians, both old and young, are making fortunes through fish farming, reports STANLEY IHEDIGBO

 

One of the channels on cable television which has captured and held the interest of millions of Nigerian children and youths is Nickelodeon.

This channel features a series of cartoons, animation and high school shows.

But 13-year-old Emmanuel Anigbugo, a Senior Secondary Student (SS), has shown that there is something more fascinating than watching kiddies’ shows.

Emmanuel says he simply loves watching Discovery Channel from where he developed interest in fish farming.

The teenager explains that he gave reins to his dream of becoming a fish farmer after his father, who works in a shipping company, one day, gave him N500 as a gift as he was about to embark on another sea voyage.

Emmanuel used part of the money to buy six pieces of fingerlings at a nearby market for N20 each. His mother supported him by providing a jerry can, which he cut off the top.

He started rearing catfish, with the feeding costing him approximately N400 every two weeks.

For Emmanuel, it was fun at the initial stage and his friends. The ‘jerry can pond’ became their meeting point.

He comes around with his friends from school to watch the creatures swimming in the water every day until two months later, when everything changed. The change started after his mother’s friend came to visit one day and saw the then matured fish swimming.

Impressed and interested, the woman asked to buy them. After negotiations, she paid N1,000 for one of them. Since then, Emmanuel has just two things in his mind – schooling and fish farming.

The boy has been supporting his mother and younger sister through his earning from the fish farming, especially since his father stays on high sea for upward of four to six months.

The boy’s mother, Mrs. Ogechi Anigbugo, says Emmanuel does not think or act like most of his peers.

“Since he was born, the boy has always done things that surprise me. In all, I give thanks to God for what He has been doing through my son and his fish farming business,” the happy mother says.

Ogechi discloses that when Emmanuel started the adventure, she supported him in order to prevent him from going out.

Beaming with pride, Ogechi says: “I noticed that he has developed a serious interest in the fish farming. The option for me was to support him. I didn’t like the idea of him going out. I have warned him several times to limit his going out.

“Suddenly, the fish farming started keeping him at home. This made me to stand behind him. I’m a very proud mother; people now know me because my son is into fish farming.”

Incidentally, Emmanuel is not the only minor who has embraced this vocation. There are three friends; Prince (12), Clinton (11) and Emeka (11), all Junior Secondary School students of Preshfaith School, Ikotun, Lagos State, who are also into fish farming.

According to the boys, it was actually a school assignment that turned into a money making venture.

The school principal, Mr. Michael Adebisi, says the students were given an assignment, which has to do with agriculture. The three boys came up with the idea of fish farming.

Adebisi says: “After the school assignment, the united friends turned the exercise into a money-making venture. People come around to buy matured catfish from them whenever it is harvesting time.”

The principal explains that it was under his supervision that the boys brought 100 pieces of fingerlings for N50 each and the cost of feeding the fish was N2,500 for three weeks.

“Within weeks, customers have started lining to buy the fish from the kids. Their fish is cheaper than other fish farmers in the area. The school is supporting the boys in every area because their effort is bringing the school into light lime in the area,” he adds.

Indeed, fish farming is a venture, which many Nigerians, even government, have largely neglected.

It is because of the lacklustre attitude of government towards a farming that could accrue millions of naira in export, including being a source of meal for the increasing Nigerian society, that most people have turned it into a venture that will only meet the needs of a nuclear family.

It is in fact a source of livelihood and income to many Nigerians.

A graduate of Estate Management, Mr. Ogbannaya Uko (38), has every reason to thank his stars after he embraced fish farming. He says he has to go into fish farming after many fruitless years of searching for white collar job.

Uko says his journey into fish farming has brought him fortune and also turned him into a teacher, now teaching people on how to become a successful farmer.

He notes that when he was doing his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Lagos State, he attended several seminars on fish farming. After years of hitting the streets of Lagos, searching for a job, without succeeding, he decided to practice all that he had learnt in seminars.

“I was able to secure a land for catfish farming after I relocated to my homework. I had to go back to my village after I got tired of searching for a job. I got a land, cleared it and dug an earth pond. I later got a place where I buy fingerlings. It was not so easy for me at the early stage, because the resources with me were not enough. I was able to start up with something.

“Another challenge was marketing the fish. I took the fish to many places. In fact, I was even giving the fish out to people on credit, to later return to collect my money.

“One day, a friend came to me and requested for catfish pepper soup. I prepared the pepper soup for him because I was a good cook. He ate and liked it. What came to my mind was, boy, you need to add value to your fish. That was how I went into catfish pepper soup business and today, I have employed people to assist me in the business,” he says.

Uko adds that he has turned his fish farm into a tourist centre. He built a resort where people come to relax, lodge and eat catfish. Since he turned his attention to catfish farming, he has been making money daily.

Another farmer, Mr. Lekan Oyinlola, says his life changed dramatically after he took up fish farming. He reveals that staying focus is the key in growing his aquaculture  business.

Oyinlola, a graduate of Kwara State Polytechnic, Ilorin, went into fish farming; but that was not his preferred vocation. Like many graduates, he had a dream of securing a white collar job in a big city.

Oyinlola couldn’t get his dream job; he was beginning to get frustrated, when fortune, mercifully, smiled on him.

“The idea came because of my inability to secure a well-paying job. I was working with a fishery company in Apapa and the salary was unbelievably too little. I then developed interest in fish farming. One day, I decided to go and do something in that area for myself. I can now say that was the best decision of my life. The business has paid me well. I started with little amount of money and felt confident that I could make it within two years. Today, the business is big with three direct and up to seven other indirect staff,” he says.

Oyinlola, who has over 13 fish ponds, is working hard to take care of the fish so they grow quickly from baby fish into large ones that people could eat. With more than eight years’ experience in the business, Oyinlola proudly declares that fish farming business is profitable.

Oyinlola says: “I concluded that catfish farming is more profitable than any other system of farming. It is easier to set up and requires minimum fixed capital.”

People now see Oyinlola as an inspiration and other fish farmers look up to him for expertise and assistance; both in terms of technique and finance.

He notes: “I could remember when I was in a hurry to stock my ponds; I ended up with poor quality juvenile from an unknown supplier. I paid dearly for my impatience. I will rather wait for months to have quality fingerlings than wasting the whole season raising fish which wouldn’t do well.”
Oyinlola says that like small scale entrepreneurs, he faced significant barriers in entering new markets, such as securing finances and learning how to grow the business.

Speaking on the challenges of fish farming, he says: “It’s actually the high cost of fish-feed; this takes up nearly 60 per cent of the production cost in the business. I see my business going international. My advice to young entrepreneurs is to pursue their passion because that is the key to their success.”
Another fish farmer, Paul Arolowo, says: “I first went into fish farming in 2014. It was a friend who introduced me to it. My friend told me about the prospects of fish farming and how profitable it has been for him. Back then, I was looking for businesses with good profit potential. I was naturally excited when he recorded as much as 100 per cent profit in a season.

“I got into catfish farming because I could see returns within a relatively short time like six months. I can gradually scale my business to succeed without much supervision from me. I started my catfish farming with about 6,000 fingerlings. I made some mistakes and recorded some losses in the early stage, but I have since learnt from my losses and things have become better.

“Fish farming is profitable, and also a sustainable business. Even though I had a loss during my first attempt, I learnt from experience. I tried to get good juveniles, carefully monitor the feeds I give my fishes, and ensuring that my fishes are properly cared for.

“I’m gradually expanding my catfish farming business. My farm currently employs about two to five people. If one understands the system, especially how to use locally available ingredients, instead of expensive imported materials, then the person will be successful.”

Today, Arolowo rears up to 15,000 fishes, which grow up to be between one and two kilogrammes before harvest. He urges farmers to diversify into fish farming, insisting it was a profitable business, more so; it is a good source of nutrient for the family meal.

The Managing Director of Zino Farm, Ogun State, and graduate of Accountancy, Mr. Enoma Odafe (28), who is presently building a hostel in Ijebu-Ode from the proceeds he made from fish farming, said that what makes the fish farming a capital intensive project is fish feeding.

Odafe says: “If you are into fish farming, and you’re not able to feed the fish very well, then you should not expect miracle of good harvest because it is the input that determines the output. I was able to find out some alternative of fish feeding, with locally made materials which I will not like to disclose because it is my unique selling proportion as a fish farmer.”

According to Odafe, harvest takes place within three months’ time in his farm.

“Some of my fishes are for the market women who are into fish smoking. Those ones are available within three months and they are called millet while the table size, which we make our money from, are harvested after five to six months. That is where we make much profit,” he says.

Odafe discloses that he started the fish farming with over 1,000 pieces of fingerlings which cost him N13 each, totalling N23, 000 a few years ago. “But today, I make over N1 million a month with workforce of five people, who make living from my fish farm.”

A University of Abuja graduate, Abdullah Al-Hassan, has always had a passion for agricultural engagements and a few years after leaving the university, he began translating that passion into a fish farm business.

Al-Hassan claims that his fish farm turns over N50 million annually.

He says: “I found a space behind my family home in Gwagwalada and began digging a big hole to create a pond. With the support of my father and a few friends, my dream soon became a reality. My life has never been the same again.”

Al-Hassan further says that he can now boast of 11 ponds, a six-man workforce, more than 50,000 fishes and an annual turnover of N50 million.

He says: “At the beginning, I had little resources, but I took a leap of faith to start the business. It was through the kindness of my trainer, who took me as a brother and opened up on what I needed to do to make catfish farming a successful business that eventually made me to succeed. During my internship, he unveiled all the tips and steps I needed to know. He took me through all the technical details; today, I’m grateful to him.

“For instance, I learnt from him how I could spend N250 to raise a fingerling to 1kg. Although I did engage in planting of vegetables before I took into catfish farming, I have never looked in the direction of my former trade.

“The most important thing is that catfish farming was and is still where my interest lies. So, nothing else crossed my mind after completing my apprenticeship. The motivating factor was the deep interest in the business, and as I realised during my apprenticeship, catfish farming was very lucrative.
“I believe if you are trained, and once you have understood it, you can easily make substantial profit from it without any hassle. The business will witness enough patronage from far and near. I’m happy for what the business has become today. At the early stage, I had only one pond. Thereafter, I started constructing other ponds. As the money was coming in, I was constructing more. By the grace of God, I can now boast of more than 11 ponds. People buy fish from me a lot.

“Upon the setting up of the business, I encountered challenges associated with flooding. At that time, the river close to the pond was not channelled, so this created a lot of problem. Whenever there was a downpour, the river would flood my pond. But over time, as I gathered more experience, I learnt how to surmount the recurring challenge.

“Each time people visit my farm, they are always amazed over how I had been surviving, given that I have the farm close to the river. On the basis of that, I have been recommended on many occasions to people for advice and training as far as fish management is concerned.

“I had to dig my first fish pond myself, with the assistance of friends and some family members. I then bought 200 fingerlings at N10 each from a bigger fish farm in Kuje, Abuja. In all of these, it means that one does not need big money to start a fish farm business. Rather, the will, determination and commitment are the most important tools that any fish farmer needs to succeed.”

 

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jovana Farms, Prince Arinze Onebunne, says: “In spite of the challenges in the industry, fish farming in Nigeria is a very lucrative and dynamic business that Nigerians can venture into.”

Arinze, who is also a chief consultant in fishery industry, has won several awards and laurels both at home and abroad. He has toured various countries and states in Nigeria, searching and researching latest techniques and innovations in fish farming business.

He has also imparted on the economy of the country through knowledge sharing in the industry to empower upcoming operators and Nigerians interested in fish farming.

Arinze says that one of the challenges in fish farming is that farmers receive little or no help from the government, following the cost of fish meals being on the high side.

He explains: “There is also the challenge of power supply where people spend much on diesel to power generators. In most cases, people dig boreholes in their farms to enable them get enough water for the business. That is why farmers are not meeting the demands of fish consumption. It is also why the country spends much on imported fishes.

 

“Investing in wrong fishes is also another problem that farmers face. Overseas, government subsidises a lot of things for fish farmers as a way of encouragement. They get their fish meal from the right source. But here, we get them from importers, who are profit conscious. That is why in Nigeria, it takes over N500 to feed a fish to maturity while in Europe it takes only N100. Modern fish farming business is very lucrative if you are determined and can also employ the   modern equipment in the business. Fish farming is a very dynamic kind of business. It is a business with new innovations almost on a daily basis.”

 

Speaking with our correspondent, a woman, who operates a joint known as ‘Mama Oge,’ at Abaranje area of Lagos State, says she makes between N100,000 and N200,000 every day in her business of catfish pepper soup. She says the catfish pepper soup known as ‘point and kill’ is not something everybody can do without proper training on how to prepare it.

The woman, who insists on being addressed as Mama Oge, adds: “I also sell beer. I have been selling beer and pepper soup for over 20 years. The experience in this business for that number of years has aided my knowledge of how to prepare catfish pepper soup quite well. A plate of my catfish pepper soup goes for N2,500.”

A 53-year-old lover of catfish pepper soup, Mr. Ambrose Nnaji, says if he doesn’t eat catfish pepper soup in a week, douses bottles of beer, it will seem like something is missing in his body system. Nnaji says he has been eating catfish pepper for over 20 years and enjoys it a lot.

The Vice President, Nigerian Agribusiness Group Forum (NAGF), and Chairman of Best Foods Limited, Dr. Emmanuel Ijewere, says the present government with its anchor borrower scheme put together by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is already doing something to assist the fish farmers by making funds available.

 

Ijewere notes that there are two types of fish trade in Nigeria –the first comprises the artisans who go to the sea or rivers to capture wild fish, while the other is for the aquaculturists, who grow their fishes.

Ijewere says: “Both of them are now being brought under the anchor borrower scheme, a programme put up by CBN in partnership with Bank of Agriculture, which some states have been categorised as catchment areas, like Lagos, Bayelsa and few other states for the scheme. The scheme is to help the farmers like the man who wants a canoe or a boat to go into the high sea to catch fish. The fund is not meant for distribution, but to help, first for the input, like in aquaculture, the fingerlings, the feed of the fish and most tools that prepare the farmers to do well.

“The biggest problems the farmers have in the country are two; one is funding, to make money available to them to spread their businesses. Second is the market, people who they sell the fishes to. So, in solving these problems, the apex bank and its counterpart, participating in it will assist to create the market.

“The market is a bit complicated and that is been worked out. We are in consultation with the farmers, the buyers and various markets. Where we will create the off-takers, who are the buyers and then there will be market at the end of the day, as we will set up Project Monitoring Team (PMT) which will be linked with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bank of Agriculture, the farmers and the off-takers. They form a team together and they will decide where they get their market, like the fingerlings, the feed and other things. That is the system in place now and it will bring in parties together, so they will work together to achieve one goal.”

Ijewere emphasises that fish farming in the country has a lot of potential for people who work hard to be millionaires. He says Nigerian ships go into the high sea to get fish and it is not enough for Nigerians.

But the story is different for Mr. Moses Idah. He says he spent over N2 million on catfish farming and hardly got N200,000. He cautions people not to invest all their life savings into catfish farming. Idah says the fish investment burnt his fingers as he suffered losses after putting into the farming his life saving.

“I have not recovered from the losses I recorded in catfish farming business. I bought a land close to the canal at Egbe, Lagos State and dug the earth pond. In fact, I attended several workshops on catfish training and spent money in acquiring knowledge concerning the fish farming before I went fully into it. Well, I say that I’m not lucky in fish farming because I have seen people who are doing well in it, even before I went into it. When I was able to grow fingerlings to a certain level, hawks came to carry some of my fishes. If hawks didn’t come, snakes will come to swallow them. In fact, thieves even started coming to steal the fingerlings. My brother, it was not easy for me. I wish those who are into it the best of luck.”

Speaking on how to start catfish farming in Nigeria, Darlington Omeh of ‘Wealth Result,’ says it comprised two most important types, which could either be operated separately or as an integrated process. According to Omeh, the two divisions are the nursery fish farming and grow out fish farming.

 

He says: “Grow out fish farming is dependent of the nursery fish farming because you can’t grow fish without the nursery. But, like I said, they can be operated separately by two different farmers. The nursery involves the inducement of the female fish to lay eggs, which are then fertilised, incubated and hatched. Those little fishes are known as fries. These fries are then nurtured from between three and four weeks into fingerlings which is the size suitable for use in the ‘grow out farming.’ Catfish farming is a major investment operation. And so, starting one needs careful consideration.

 

“In between the nursery and grow out operation, is what we refer to as the primary operation. It involves the nurturing of three or four weeks within which they could grow into post fingerlings, mini-juveniles and juveniles respectively. These can then be nurtured for between four to five month into grow out. One has to acquire at least half plot of land in a suitable location. This means, you must consider good access road, closeness to market and labour. If the land is already available, then that is good. You need to determine whether you want to go into big or small-scale commercial catfish farming.

“Secondly, the pond system to adopt, re-circulatory system, earthen pond or concrete/plastic pond or all are something to consider. Once the pond is dug and the area has been developed, there is nothing you can do to undo the work and recover the cost. So, extensive evaluation must be done by someone planning to start catfish farming before he finally decides whether it is wise for him to pursue a particular type of pond construction project. There are minimum water flow rate requirement in building a pond for a catfish. Will the source meet them? Employ professionals to test whether the water supply volume and flow rate meet standard requirement. Is the water supply suitable for catfish farming? Try growing a few catfish using water taken from the target source. Is the area suitable for pond construction in terms of soil composition and permeability?”

He adds: “Ideal soil for pond construction is one with good composition property. One resource you can run to check on this is your local soil management office. Catfish farming will require some water movement. The best water for catfish farming is from borehole. One or two must be sunk to guarantee steady water supply. Overhead tanks for holding water should also be installed. The mechanism of pumping of water must be backup facility. The system must not fail. For one to get the most profit for a catfish harvest, it is necessary to determine buyers’ requirements when planning the season’s production. Consider what buyers demand in terms of weight, frequency, size and price. One can sell the season’s harvest to fish processors or directly to consumers. The later results to greater return to the farmer.”

The National President of Catfish Association of Nigeria (CAFAN), Mr. Tayo Akingbolagun, says the aquaculture sub-sector produced fish valued at over N175 billion in 2016 fiscal year and fish produced in the period under review was 370,000 tonnes.

Akingbolagun says fish business contributed about 4.5 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the sub-sector had provided over two million jobs to Nigerians cutting across the various sectors of the economy.

The CAFAN president urges government at all levels to reposition the nation’s revenue base through investment in agriculture, especially in the aquaculture sub sector.

He says: “The focus of our government is to reposition the Nigeria revenue platforms through investment in agriculture. Fish is one of the vital sectors that are being considered as it is the best and cheapest source of animal protein for human consumption. Fish feed accounts for between 65 and 75 per cent of cost of production. In addition, a five per cent vat is also charged on locally-produced fish feeds.”

 

 

Akingbolagun notes that the charges on locally-produced fish feeds had pushed up the cost of production and forced farmers to buy feeds at high costs. He also attributes the cost of production to government tax policies which he describes as retrogressive and uncomplimentary to reposition the revenue base of the country from oil to agriculture.

 

He, however, advises the Federal Government to as a matter of urgency, attend to its tax policies so as to encourage the development, growth and sustainability of the aquaculture sub sector.

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations states in a report that the aquaculture sector is driven by the private sector, with feed and seed provided by private business.

 

 

It adds that from 21700 tonnes in 1999, aquaculture production grew steadily to 316,700 tonnes in 2015. Catfish, typically grown in ponds and tanks, is the most farmed species in Nigeria, constituting over half of the total aquaculture production by volume.

 

In 2012, 13,627 people were reported as employed in aquaculture (two per cent were women) with an estimated annual per catfish consumption of 13.3 kg in 2013, fish represents an important dietary element and one of the few sources of animal protein available to many Nigerians.

In 2015, the total fisheries production was estimated at 1,027,000 tonnes, to which marine catches contributed 36 per cent, inland waters catches contributed 33 per cent and aquaculture 31 per cent. Fishery sector contributed to 0.5 per cent of national GDP in 2015.

More than 80 per cent of Nigeria’s total domestic production is generated by artisanal small-scale fishers from coastal, inshore, creeks of the Niger Delta, lagoons, inland rivers and lakes.

 

The small migratory bonga (Ethmalosa fimbriata) is the principal catch. Some initial progress has been made in developing an industrial fisheries sector, but the fleet and infrastructure are ageing. The main species from marine capture fisheries are sardinella.

With total fish imports amounting to about USD 1.2 billion and exports valued at USD 284 390 million in 2013, Nigeria is a net importer of fishery products. Fishing is a major source of livelihood. In 2014, 713,036 were reported as engaged in inland fisheries with 21 per cent of the women; while 15 per cent of the total 764,615 people engaged in other fisheries were women in 2014.

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